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From Big Iron to General Aviation to Commercial Drone Startup – Kevin Gould, Founder & President of Hawk Aerial Shares His Thoughts on the Journey

On the eve of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems Xponential Convention in New Orleans (May 2nd through May 5th), we asked Hawk Aerial’s Kevin Gould to share the highlights of his career journey from Boeing to Adam Aircraft, Piper, Honeywell and now to his commercial drone services startup, Hawk Aerial.

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Q: Can you tell us a bit about your career path?

A: I started my career serving in a variety of executive level positions at Boeing. Then, after a 3-year stint turning around medical documentation and billing software concern, Clinicient, I joined Adam Aircraft as SVP of Operations. In 2005, I joined Piper Aircraft as VP of Operations ultimately serving as CEO. In 2011, I joined Honeywell as President of their Bendix/King Brand before starting Hawk Aerial in the Fall of 2014.  I have had the great pleasure of helping turn around a number of organizations while recognizing and developing many talented individuals along the way. These experiences have prepared me very well for my current role.

Q: Please share your thoughts on General Aviation with us.

A: General Aviation is one of the most interesting industries I have been involved with. It has been in decline now for 20+ years while so many terrific industry leaders have been working together tirelessly to arrest the decline and reinvigorate the marketplace. Costs and regulations are certainly part of the challenge, but I believe the core issue(s) haven’t yet been discovered.

Q: When did you decide to get into the Drone (UAV) space? 

A: Two years ago a friend and colleague demonstrated a drone aircraft and its powerful camera while sitting in a lawn chair in his back yard.  The experience convinced me that I needed to create a business in the next big thing in aviation — small commercial drones.

Q: How is the marketplace segmented?

A: Today the market is made up of three distinct segments: military, hobbyist and commercial. The commercial market today is broken down into two primary sub-segments: data accumulation and goods transportation.  Regulatory issues will slow the development of the goods transportation category. But the data and imagery sub-category will develop rapidly.

Q: What part of the marketplace are you pursuing?

A: We see a huge opportunity for commercial drones to handle a variety of difficult, dangerous, and/or time consuming tasks.  Bridge inspection, powerline inspection and wind turbine inspection are three areas where drones can save significant money and time while essentially eliminating the hazards associated with the way these tasks are performed today.

Q: What have you learned from your previous experiences that helped shape your efforts at Hawk Aerial?

A: At Hawk Aerial, we are dealing primarily with UAV’s weighing less than 55 pounds.  My experience with and understanding of IMU’s, GPS Technology, ADS-B technology and the dramatic increases in computing power have proven particularly useful.  While IMUs in manned aircraft have taken the form of gyros, slip/skid indicators, etc. for visual and IFR flight, in the drone world IMUs typically consist of 3 electronic gyros and 3 accelerometers to provide airborne stability. Light weight, small and enormous computing power has made it easy to send up drones just to look around.  Computing power has also allowed the development of tremendous autopilot technology to simplify/democratize use of Drones. GPS technology has added tremendous capability to unmanned aircraft as it has to so many products and services today.  And my understanding of ADS-B technology helps me see clearly how drones can and will be integrated into the national and global airspace in the years to come. Because all of these technologies have manned aircraft applications, it has been relatively easy for me to quickly understand how drones work and apply that knowledge to solving real world business problems.

And having had extensive experience with the FAA regulatory process and their focus on airspace, inspection and maintenance regulation is proving to be very valuable in working with the FAA on drone regulations and commercial application of the technology.

Q: Can you share any thoughts on subjects we haven’t covered so far?

A: The Hawk Aerial business strategy is primarily the result of me looking closely at where my experience, and others like me, could add value.  The sweet spot was clearly at the nexus between the technology and its potential users.  We see ourselves as the Accenture of the drone world, helping companies evaluate and qualify potential benefits and then help them implement appropriate solutions.  We have our own drones and pilots.  We can help organizations build teams and execute on their own but most of our relationships currently involve providing contract implementation services once an opportunity has been identified and evaluated.  We have secured the FAA Section 333 exemption necessary to offer commercial services.  And we have extensive experience operating the DGI Matrice platform using a variety of cameras and sensors. In the not too distant future, Lidar and Hyper-Spectral sensor technology will add even more capability and application opportunity to the commercial drone industry.

I believe we will soon see a tipping point in commercial drone acceptance and application when FAA Part 107 regulations are issued, eliminating the current laborious requirement to secure FAA exemptions to offer commercial services.

And I also believe that the popularity of drones will eventually help to stabilize and revitalize General Aviation as more people gain exposure to the joy of flight through their experiences with drones.

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Special thanks to Kevin Gould for granting us this interview.  We sincerely hope your personal career journey is proving to be stimulating and rewarding in 2016.

Regards,

The McDermott & Bull Executive Search – Aviation & Aerospace Team
Rod McDermott Managing Partner
Craig Sabina Principal Consultant
Jared Moriarty Associate Principal Consultant
David Pasahow Senior Advisor